Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Nature Vs Nurture (Again)

Pop psychologist Oliver James plumps for the Blank Slate, the whole Slate, and nothing but the Slate in the Guardian - with a topping of political partisanship :

Politics may be the reason why the media has so far failed to report the small role of genes. The political right believes that genes largely explain why the poor are poor, as well as twice as likely as the rich to be mentally ill. To them, the poor are genetic mud, sinking to the bottom of the genetic pool.
A commenter writes :

Please Guardian people - get a geneticist to respond to this article

And as if by magic appears one Bob O'Hara on the Guardian's Science Blogs :

During one of my frequent breaks, I saw this twitter comment, from Mark Henderson, science correspondent at The Times:

Oliver James demolishes another straw man...

A couple of minutes later, when I took my next break, I followed the link. Henderson was only sort-of accurate about Oliver James demolishing a straw man. If you know anything about the subject, it was clear that he wasn't even attacking the straw man he was setting up: he was tilting at a windmill that he mistook for the straw man he had set up.

James' Comment is Free piece resurrects the straw man of the old nature-nurture debate. Is human behaviour determined by genes or by the environment? We've pretty much answered this: "it's more complicated than that". Both genes and environment have an effect, and it's going to be messy (genes can change susceptibility to having a psychiatric disorder, but growing up in a bad environment will make it more likely that you will actually suffer from psychiatric problems). The interesting genetic questions surround the relative importance of different genetic and environmental effects, and finding the genes that are involved in genetic disorders.

What's really scary are the comments on James' piece. The Blank Slate is a religion, and any deviation from it is the heresy of evil people :

" ...any child at school knows that some people are sh*ts and some aren't; there's rarely any particularly clear reason for this. And if you are, you're likely to become a right-winger, because the political right endorses your character defects and cruelties of nature; it provides a justificatory ideology which encourages you to play out your sadism and cruelty.
Rightwing politics dont make people nasty:- nasty people support rightwing politics! Eureka!

PS:- why are there so very, very few Ciffers from the left, prepared to post in the two rightwing broadsheets? Why are you prepared to let the right crow triumphantly from on top of it's dunghills in the Times and Telegraph? They're not only nasty people, on the whole; they'e often really, really dense; go on, expose them for what they are:- stupid, malicious people bereft of human decency."

Or how about :

Right-wing authoritarian followers prefer to see the world in stark black-and-white. They conform closely with the rules defined for them by their authorities, and do not stray far from their own communities. This extreme, unquestioning conformity makes them insular, fearful, hostile to new information, uncritical of received wisdom, and able to accept vast contradictions without perceiving the inherent hypocrisy… Conformity also feeds their sense of themselves as more moral and righteous than others…

I presume that unimaginative insular parents produce unimaginative insular children however wouldn't it be great if it was down to a faulty/missing gene that could be fixed because I honestly believe that the human race can not evolve further until we can fix them.

Brrr !! That Theodore Adorno (and the people still teaching him at Uni) have a lot to answer for.


The Pedant-General said...

One word: projection

JuliaM said...

'fix them'..? *gulp*

Anonymous said...

If these people believe that nature as no discernable effect, they don't believe in evolution and therefore don't believe in science.

But strangely they pretend the opposite.

DJ said...

Ah yes: conservatives are too conformist, so they need to cured of their deviant conformity.

Apparently, the blank slate fell off the roof and landed on liberal heads.

Anonymous said...

(A) Differences in human outcomes are soley due to genes (nature). This is an unreasonable position.

(B) Differences in human outcomes are soley due to environment. This is also an unreasobnable position.

(C) Differences in human outcomes - its a bit of both. This is a reasonable position.

Left/liberal believers in (B) seem to to take great delight in vehmently attacking the supporters of (A). Seemingly unaware that in fact almost no-one believes in (A). The people they attack are almost invariably some sort of adherents to (C). Of course its actually the supporters of (B) who are clinging to unreasonable position.

Saw this on isteve the other day.

Left/liberals are like religious lunatics who gave up the religion but kept the lunacy.